“I used to cross the Berlin Wall pretty much every day when I was the Berlin correspondent of the BBC. That was my job, covering East Germany, and I would go across ‘Checkpoint Charlie’, and you really felt you were crossing from one world into another, from one civilisation into another. West Berlin was garish, and lively and rather seedy in some ways, but indisputably a capitalist, free part of the world. And East Germany – East Berlin – was not. They were scared. They were scared of the Stasi, of the Russian occupying forces. You could not say what you thought in public. You could not say what you thought in private. My friendship with those Germans was constrained by that. I had to meet them secretly, with considerable effort sometimes, going several different routes on the U-Bahn and S-Bahn, trying to shake off the Stasi tails who were following me so that I could meet them and do something really subversive… like handing over a plastic carrier bag containing back numbers of Der Spiegel, which was the sort of thing that they wanted.
I also lived in the Soviet Union when it was the Soviet Union. I was the last journalist to be expelled from the Soviet Union in 1990 and I was told when I was expelled, ‘You will never be allowed back into the Soviet Union’. This is what the KGB said when they put me on a train leaving from Grodno, Belarus, to go to Poland. I was very pleased to go back to the Soviet Union under a slightly different name and a slightly different passport shortly afterwards and then witness ‘the evil empire’ come crashing down. The phrase, ‘The power of the powerless’, comes from Václav Havel, and if you have not yet read them, I really do recommend that you read Havel’s essays. There is a great biography of Havel that has just come out, by my friend Michael Žantovský, who lives just up the road from here, as the Czech Ambassador. He really brings to life this extraordinary man, and the extraordinary period of history that he both lived through, and, in some ways, encapsulated. The whole point of ‘the power of the powerless’ is that even in a totalitarian system, small acts of resistance, small acts of bravery, small acts of what he called ‘living in truth’ eventually build up and coalesce and then undermine the system from below. When he wrote that, it seemed like a really unlikely prospect. Havel was in jail in the early ‘80s, and that is really the time from which I want to start. It was the time when we had the final years of Brezhnev, and then the years of Andropov who was trying to reform the Soviet Union in a kind of hard-line way.”
You can read the rest of this interesting presentation, by clicking on the “Resources” tab on the website, and downloading the full paper. There’s also a great Q&A between Lucas and young symposium attendees.